Wood, steel, Concrete
Duration: 6.9.19 & 9.9.19
Product: Canal construction is the necessity on this particular location. In order to build the canal, several methods and building techniques are applied, including the construction of subterranean support structures for the canal walls and a railway-infrastructure to remove rubble.
By-product: Several unpredictable pieces of squared timber and steel I-beams are generated during the building of these structures. These waste materials are usually removed by a waste management company. The wood gets shredded and the steel ends up in the scrap yard.
Inspiration: While walking through the streets of a city, one passes construction sites at times. Often there are piles of material laying around behind the fences. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between building materials and waste. Is there a way to add value to these materials with the possibilities on site?
Organisation: I had to find a construction company that would be willing to let me work where the by-products of their constructions are generated and transformation opportunities for the materials are given. Without connections, I knew this would be impossible. Fortunately, my grandfather was active in the steel industry during his lifetime and organized the construction of some factory sites. These buildings were realised by Friedrich Wassermann construction company in the 70s.
Potentials: On site, there are two possible by- products to proceed with. First, the squared timber, which is easily connectable by hammer and nail. Secondly, the leftover I-beams. Since they are made from steel, they are weldable. On site, there is welding equipment available. Because canal construction was the site-specific task, the technique of shooting concrete onto the canal walls is used for reinforcement. One property of this technique is to be able to fossilize any material artificially without a mould.
Challenges: Every transformation or connection of material is made outdoors. Either on or under the street. The air placed concrete needs to be applied in the canal because small stones could shatter windows above the surface. The subterranean space is very limited and the used materials are not easy to manoeuvre due to their weight.
Goals: I want to increase the value of the squared timber by coating it with air placed concrete, a technique that is usually left unnoticed since it is used in canals. The objects need to be small in account of transportation into the canal by excavator shovel and manageability during the covering process by only one person. The shapes are as simple so the craftsperson who is covering the object with concrete needs to flip the object as little as possible during the spraying process. In the street, the steel I-beams are welded into simple seating structures and refined in the workshop.
Production: The production started with searching for material that was already in useful dimensions so there was no cutting necessary. This applies to both potential by-products of the construction site. The squared timber was nailed and screwed together into manageable objects. A cover from chicken wire gave the concrete something to hold on. In the end of the newly dug canal the small furniture objects were coated with concrete under high pressure. To realize this design, a skilled and open-minded construction worker was essential. After the welding of the I-beams, the resulting objects needed to be trimmed to prevent injuries. To maintain the condition of the surface, the objects were clear varnished. This production was done without any helpers.
Reflexion: As I had been obsessed with construction sites since my childhood, it was a real pleasure to have permission to legally open the fence and dig in the scrap materials. Climbing down the pit, talking to the construction workers and observing their labour made me appreciate their efforts in the underground even more. The composing part of the design process was mainly improvisational. I had to react on the material in its varying forms with limited space and time. The coating process was completely out of my control. Unfortunately, the timber inside the objects made the concrete shell crack. I realised that wood as an organic base material is not the right choice for a rigged coating. With this project, I wanted to set a base for all the following ones. I asked myself: How deep into the earth can one go to add value to a material? Where is the origin of revaluation and how could this look like?
Prospect: The concrete objects are to be regarded as pure results of experimentation. For further designs, a lot of parameters like base material, location, time and workforce would need a little bit of adjustment. It felt like the process was dominated by restrictions instead of options. For the story, the location of production is important. But for the objects, these complications let the design literally shrink. Next time that I will use shot concrete I would try to organise a possibility to do it above the ground with the object hanging. The substructure for the object would need to be made of thin welded reinforcement bars. The company Heidelberg Cement offered me such an option. Their Lab in Leimen, Germany has a test stand for air placed concreate available. They are potentially willing to produce furniture with me.